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The Fifth Race

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“I’ve been on digs that were closer to civilization.”

Jack stared out the vehicle’s front window at the continuing fields of corn and was forced to nod agreement. This town was definitely in the middle of nowhere.

“Just tell me there are a comfortable bed and a cup of coffee at the end of this drive.”

Jack smirked. “There’s a motel, so the bed’s in doubt. But I’m told the local coffee shop is good.”

Daniel groaned, slumping lower in the passenger seat. His raised hands scrubbed at the blurred eyes beneath his glasses, a vestige of trying to read while Jack drove.

“If you’d let me borrow a chopper, we’d already be there.”

“And then I wouldn’t have had time to read the files again.”

“You could have read them in the room.”

“Which you’ve already told me is going to be a small town dump motel.”

Trying desperately not to laugh, Jack chastised his love. It was a phrase he was well appreciating these days and the freedom it implied. “Well, someone didn’t want me to take the President or First Husband’s offer to borrow the ancestral castle.”

Veering off on a tangent, Daniel demanded, “Why do you call him that?”

Jack blinked. “Uh… Perhaps because he’s married to the President?”

“So?” The linguist demanded pissily. “I don’t recall Jacqueline Kennedy being addressed as the First Wife.”

The dam broke on his laughter and Jack gave in to the urge until all that were left were faint chuckles. As he subsided, the icy silence inside the car revealed how very bad an idea that had been.

“Oh, come on,” Jack demanded. “That was funny.”

“It had better be very good coffee,” Daniel bit out, indignant.

***

Slipping into a just deserted parking spot, Jack gloated at his good luck. Easily obtained on the street parking had probably been easier in Smallville, Kansas before Lex Luthor had been elected and the local farmboy had put the small town on the map.

“The Talon. My salvation.”

Daniel tried to look forbidding with his arms crossed as he moved around the car. “Keep it up, flyboy.”

Jack shrugged, knowing he was always one step away from the doghouse. It was simply easier to beg forgiveness, a facet of his lover’s personality that he exploited with extreme prejudice.

Leading the scientist to the front door, he guided him inside as Daniel fought to clean a smudge off his glasses. Then, once Jack got a good look at the interior, he was incredibly thankful Daniel couldn’t see past his nose at the moment.

“Jack!” Daniel squawked. “Give those back!”

His grab for his glasses failed as Jack tucked them quickly into his shirt pocket. “Don’t,” the general warned. “Trust me on this, Danny. It’s better this way.”

Mind working at why Jack would want him blinded, Daniel followed the hand that guided him to a seat at the counter. Not able to see the menu, he donned an annoyed look and pointed it in the vague direction of a Jack-shaped blur. Luckily for his escort, he knew exactly what to order to appease a grumpy scientist.

Distracted, Daniel did his best to observe as much of the room as he could without his glasses. Jack might make the jokes about Archaeologist, Anthropologist, Linguist, Babe, but the study of anthropology was a study of people. This town was a prime example of people who had most certainly been changed by its residents.

And they didn’t even know that one of the residents who’d changed them was an alien.

Stepping out of the way of a pair of high-school aged kids, Daniel bumped into a support pillar. The building, or so he had been told when asking about local life, was converted out of an old style movie theater. Turning, he kept one hand on the pillar to orient himself on what he could make out of the blurry room.

Of all the days not to wear his contacts…

Daniel blinked as his eyes focused on the lapis and gilt decoration of the building support. He knew he was gaping, even as he edged his face within inches of the garishly painted detail.

“Oh, no… I don’t believe…” A pause, then Daniel demanded, “Jack!”

His bellow carried over the general conversation and Daniel ignored the fact that people were probably staring. Jack approached little faster than his usual saunter, encouraged by the idea that surely nothing threatening had occurred in a crowded earthbound coffee shop.

“Yes, dear?” he inquired deceptively soft, with an edge of ‘I’m this close to not allowing you to push me around anymore, rock boy’ coloring his tone.

“This,” Daniel jabbed his finger against a painted figure with indignance. “Who is this?”

Jack glanced, then shook his head. It was a good thing he hadn’t yet given back Daniel’s glasses, or he’d be ass over nose in trouble for his ‘I’m really trying not to laugh at you’ expression.

“And this is where the History Channel comes in handy… I believe that’s a standard representation of Ra, Daniel.”

“And, this?” the scientist demanded, moving his finger a few inches over.

“Anubis,” Jack chuffed out, choking back on a chuckle. He leaned closer, moving Daniel’s finger. “That one’s Thoth, right? Have we killed him yet?”

Daniel’s jaw moved soundlessly in outrage, his hands rising to make the gestures that typically accompanied a lecture of immeasurable length. While Jack typically found this quite amusing, particularly if he was able to watch some other poor sap be filleted by his geek’s unexpectedly sharp tongue, the middle of a Kansas coffee shop wasn’t the place for it today.

“Oh, look, order’s up,” Jack said brightly, hauling Daniel away from the pillar with a grip on his arm.

Struggling for a moment, the archaeologist tried to pull away before simply cooperating. He took the cup pressed into his hand, consoling his offended dignity in the rich flavor of a surprisingly good roast. When they were outside, the day’s light clearing away thoughts of false gods and too many brushes with death, Jack eased the metal bound lenses back on Daniel’s face.

“I’m not a child, Jack,” Daniel warned.

“I know… and I agree with you, Danny,” Jack was quick to point out, jerking a thumb back towards the building they had just exited. “The décor in there? Hideous. I’d say write a letter of complaint at the sheer tackiness, since we can’t really reference our reasons, but there’s a better option.”

“And that is,” he inquired, climbing back into the rental car and shutting the door on the rest of the world.

“Well… You’ll have to wait until his term of office is over, but I understand that a certain Lex Luthor is a partial owner. He may not be able to do anything but ask the other owner right now…”

As Jack’s voice tapered off, Daniel began to chuckle and then laugh outright. There were probably more important things on the President’s mind than the decoration of a small business. All the same, he probably would take action since it was covered with depictions of the race responsible for decimating his spouse’s species.

***

Jack’s hand kept flexing as he reached for his P-90, or even a standard side-arm. He didn’t care that they were on Earth, in the middle of Kansas, or even suffering after a cramped night of poor sleep on a motel-room bed that had seen better days.

Give him a cave, alien writing on the walls, Daniel touching things indiscriminately, and he wanted a weapon. Preferably one that shot many bullets very quickly, but even a knife would do at this point.

“I really don’t think it’s a good idea to touch those,” Jack muttered, knowing he’d just be ignored.

Daniel, unexpectedly, turned away from the cave’s decoration to frown at Jack. Even more amazing, it was his ‘what’s wrong’ frown and not his ‘would you please shut up’ frown. The jeans, t-shirt, even the reappearance of his flannel, made this rather more comfortable than the usual off-world BDUs.

That Jack was his echo in clothing, without the flannel, was hardly comforting. “Just saying,” he explained quickly. “We don’t have the best record with your touching.”

Daniel was far too occupied to make his usual quip in response. After all, Jack hadn’t exactly complained about his touching back in the motel. He began to gesture as he spoke.

“Jack, first, we’re on Earth. Kansas. The middle of nowhere Kansas, to be precise. There is no evidence of a threat of any kind in…”

Jack held up a single finger, his arms uncrossing from their almost instinctual response to ‘professor mode’ having begun. “No threat, other than that small colony of pupae stage symbiotes that the President was nice enough to have his company transfer to SGC custody.”

“Okay,” Daniel nodded, “I can see where that…”

“The middle of nowhere, where an alien ship landed and its passenger resided undetected for decades?”

“And that’s something I don’t understand,” Daniel responded, turning away.

It was his best defense, as Jack rolled his eyes and stepped closer.

“The ship, or pod, was intended for the Antarctic destination, yet it landed in Kansas.”

“Should we be questioning this?” Jack asked. “Any Ancients in the Antarctic were dead, long dead. Superman to be, or not, kids need parents, care, fostering in their growth.”

“Yes, but how did the ship know?” Daniel questioned. “It should have followed its programming.”

“We don’t know what its programming said.”

“I really doubt it said ‘land in the corn,’ Jack.”

“Well, you know, those quirky Ancients…”

Daniel turned his head, his calm, unamused look clear over the rims of his glasses. Jack shut up, his reaction to that particular look tamped down for use later.

“Okay, Dr. Jackson, tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I think the Ancients would have protected what was likely their last hope with everything they had… Including a ship that could evaluate and adapt.”

“A.I.”

“Exactly,” Daniel agreed. “I just can’t figure out why here.”

“I still say we shouldn’t disregard the corn,” Jack tossed back.

Was he mistaken, or was this particular spot on the wall shinier than the rest of it. Reaching out, he coasted his fingers over it. Almost simultaneously, he recognized the feel of naquadah and the glare of light.

“Jack!” Daniel’s panicked yell resonated as Jack O’Neill vanished.

***

Emptiness. Vast emptiness. The glare, ever present, almost supporting him above and within an unfathomable abyss.

Then, a voice, echoing in the dark. “Explain yourself.”

Instinct took over as Jack struggled to understand what had happened. This kind of shit is what happened when you touched the pretty alien rocks.

“Jonathon O’Neill, General, United States Air Force, 425-55-6213.”

There was nothing under his feet, yet he didn’t fall. Nothing around him but the contrast of light and dark, yet he had the sense of space. He’d been in the caves. Smallville, the heritage of the Kawatche tribe, and Daniel’s fate was still as unknown as what was currently happening to him.

“How did you access the device?”

Jack would be thrice damned before he answered some disembodied asshole. Yet, somehow, the usual name, rank, serial number bit seemed trite when dealing with aliens. Admittedly, he felt a little sheepish that such a response had been his first thought.

“You are Taur’i.”

The voice had changed from outrage and indignation to an overlay of confusion. Weren’t the N’man supposed to be extinct? Or, nearly so, Jack wondered with a mental nod to Clark Kent.

“I am Commander of the Taur’i Stargate Command. My people will not negotiate for my return.”

The pressure on his senses returned and Jack flinched under the onslaught. It was familiar, yet not, in an impressive way.

“You will release your knowledge of Kal-El.”

The voice’s demand brought with it a searing pain and recognition. Fucking alien telepathy. Jack bent at the waist, then knelt, as his gritted teeth and clenched jaw kept the exclamation of pain inside.

“Vin’c’rer,” was the next disembodied statement. It was a word that Daniel would probably immediately recognize but that Jack could only tell was probably Ancient.

His greatest comfort was that the pain ceased. Suddenly, and without explanation, the combative light had lessened. While it still supported him in nothingness, the glare no longer threatened to overwhelm mortal senses.

“You serve Kal-El as he rules the Taur’i people.”

That was an interesting new explanation for the First Gentlemen’s position. Jack pondered for a moment Lex Luthor’s reaction to being told his husband was an alien conqueror before deciding that it was probably safer to cooperate with the crazy alien consciousness.

“Kal-El,” he hesitated a moment over the name, “gave me access to this location.”

“To the caves, not the archive,” the voice corrected immediately. “Kal-El has not communicated for many years and should return immediately.”

“Uh, yeah, I’ll be sure to tell him that,” Jack replied. “Why did his ship land here?” he prodded, looking for the answers he knew Daniel would want once he returned safely. That he would return safely was something he would not allow himself to doubt.

“The Atlantis dock was diseased. His people had attempted to flee its effects and established outposts, such as this one. The ship located the nearest surviving power source.” A pause, then, “Kal-El was wise to assign a general with civilized ancestry to the gateway.”

Pondering the implication of civilized ancestry and wondering, not for the first time, about his ATA gene, Jack nodded. Not that there was anyone to see him, but whatever kind of likely AI this was could probably tell.

“Okay, so I should be going now… Back to those caves.”

“No,” was the unequivocal answer. “Your knowledge will be assimilated into the archive. Kal-El will be provided an appropriate replacement.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Jack muttered, while trying to figure out exactly what in the hell he could do about it.

***

Daniel’s first response had been panic. That particular impulse had been scrubbed away by years of missions through the Stargate and more hostile alien cultures than he ever wanted to count.

Fifteen seconds after Jack disappeared in a rush of white light, he was trying to call Stargate Command. The complete lack of reception on his cell denied him that outlet. His unwillingness to leave the caves without further information made pursuing the tactic of ‘get backup’ rather useless.

He’d spent endless minutes studying the wall. The language was clear, but the meaning was obscure. Something about knowledge and birthright that was completely escaping him at the moment.

But scary sounds had a tendency to clear even a fogged mind.

The sharp clicks of a shotgun being cocked certainly qualified.

Daniel instinctively raised his hands, his pocket notebook clutched in one and the stub of a pencil in the other. “I’m Dr. Daniel Jackson… I’m not here to cause any problems.”

“Step away from the wall.”

The demand was flat and unequivocal. Daniel took a step backwards. His mouth twisted with the displeasure of the interruption. It wasn’t likely to be short, either, if they had already moved on to threatening gestures like weaponry.

“Turn around.”

He complied, surprised to see only one man with him in the caves. Older, yet clearly a male accustomed to life outside. The jeans were well-worn, the boots equally so. The shotgun was definitely not new, but looked well cared for and comfortable in the loose but ready grip.

“Jonathan Kent?” Daniel questioned with a hint of a frown, doubting the evidence before his own eyes.

“What are you doing here?” the man asked, rather than answer the clear inquiry that had been presented to him.

Daniel didn’t lower his hands, not wanting to appear threatening even though he doubted that the First Gentleman’s father would actually shoot him. “I’m studying the caves… Clark knew I was coming here.”

The responsive frown was clear, but at least the aim wavered off him slightly. “You’ll have to come with me while I confirm that,” was finally offered, in the gesture of peace.

“Not a problem,” Daniel replied. Waving his notebook slightly, he asked, “Mind if I put my hands down now?”

***

The pie was fantastic and the coffee nearly orgasmic. But all Daniel wanted at that very moment was to away from this table and back at the caves working to free Jack from whoever, whatever, or wherever he had been taken.

“Dr. Jackson, I really must apologize once again for Jonathon’s actions.”

“Really, Mrs. Kent, it’s understandable,” he forestalled what he knew, in repetition, would be a lengthy apology. The insistence to call her Martha had been neatly sidestepped. “I can’t imagine the precautions ingrained in your family to protect a secret like Clark’s.”

Martha’s blank look of polite shock accompanied the thump of the telephone as the Kent patriarch reentered the kitchen. Daniel had been unable to hear most of the conversation as the older man wandered his home on the portable telephone.

“It’s okay, Martha,” he reassured. Though he looked none too happy about it, he offered, “He’s with that group in Colorado that Clark told us about.”

It was Daniel’s turn to look shocked as he stuttered, “Stargate Command is highly classified.”

Jonathon took a seat at the table as Martha simply patted their guest on his shoulder. “The existence of aliens wasn’t a big surprise, dear.”

Daniel pushed his cup away, preparing to rise. “Now that you’ve confirmed who I am, I really need to get back to the caves.”

“What’s the rush?” Jonathon asked with some suspicion.

“General O’Neill, who commands the Stargate program, was there with me.”

"Only you were there when I arrived."

“Jack disappeared,” Daniel explained. “He may have touched something. There was this flash of white light…”

His voice tapered off as Martha twisted her hands in front of her. The worried and far too understanding glances being shared by the couple were not comforting.

“What?” Daniel asked, impatiently.

“Son,” Jonathon paused. “There’s an artificial intelligence in that cave system.”

“I know,” Daniel responded quickly. “It’s what we’d been hoping for… Further information about your son’s species that might help…”

He was interrupted as Martha said quietly, “It’s not exactly friendly.”

“Define not exactly,” Daniel asked with growing concern.

***

Jack grunted, forcing back the urge to scream with the sheer pain spiking through his head. The sensation was familiar, too familiar. It had felt like this when Thor had removed the library of the ancients from his mind. Back then, he’d been so grateful that the agony had been peripheral to the relief.

This time, there was no library to remove... Just his own, far too needed, mind. It wasn’t exactly a comforting thought to buffer the sharp edges of the experience.

The sudden cessation was almost as disorienting as the experience itself. Jack wobbled in his weightless support, stunned by the appearance of another, identical supporting light in the dark nothingness.

It was Daniel.

Jack blinked, moving his head tentatively and hoping that this was a hallucination. But hallucinations didn’t speak… and they didn’t speak in Ancient as fluently as his Danny.

The subtle flinch told him that the AI was replying, most likely directly to the already over-full cortex of his lover. There wasn’t a damn thing he could do to help the other man, but Jack railed silently at his prison. Either Daniel couldn’t see him, or he was ignoring the distraction.

With a particularly fierce lunge, O’Neill received an unexpected mouth full of cave-floor dirt. He spat the nasty tasting grit from his mouth. Forcing himself to his hands and knees, he was scanning for opponents and Daniel. The ache of his muscles and the migraine pounding away inside his head were nothing.

“You must be General O’Neill.”

The voice wasn’t Daniel’s. Jack had clearly overestimated his own readiness as he moved to rise from the floor and collapsed instead. A man came into view, leaning over him but ducking back slightly as he correctly read the intent in Jack’s eyes.

“Just lay there for a second,” was offered warily. “Jor-El has that effect on people.”

Jack only obeyed because Daniel popped into view next to the older man. The light of success and discovery was burning in his lover’s eyes.

“You may have been right about the corn, Jack…”

His ‘Huh?’ look must have been obvious. Daniel explained without any further prompting. “Not necessarily the corn, but the isolation… This location, it was chosen for a reason. The isolation was perfect in case there was an accident with the AI’s secondary function.”

“Secondary?” Jack bit out, feeling the grind of particles between his teeth. He forced himself into a sitting position, the glow of softer golden light drawing his attention to an opened section of cave wall.

“Technology replication.”

Daniel uttered the words like a prayer. Jack was inclined to agree as his gaze fell upon the soft amber glow of a ZPM.